Euro Sentiment Jumps, USD Sentiment Dives

The bounce in the EUR against a broad range of currencies as well as a shift in speculative positioning highlights a sharp improvement in eurozone sentiment. Indeed, the CFTC IMM data reveals that net speculative positioning has turned positive for the first time since mid-November. A rise in the German IFO business confidence survey last week, reasonable success in peripheral bond auctions (albeit at unsustainable yields), hawkish ECB comments and talk of more German support for eurozone peripheral countries, have helped.

A big driver for EUR at present appears to be interest rate differentials. In the wake of recent commentary from Eurozone Central Bank (ECB) President Trichet following the last ECB meeting there has been a sharp move in interest rate differentials between the US and eurozone. This week’s European data releases are unlikely to reverse this move, with firm readings from the flash eurozone country purchasing managers indices (PMI) today and January eurozone economic sentiment gauges expected.

Two big events will dictate US market activity alongside more Q4 earnings reports. President Obama’s State of The Union address is likely to pay particular attention on the US budget outlook. Although the recent fiscal agreement to extend the Bush era tax cuts is positive for the path of the economy this year the lack of a medium to long term solution to an expanding budget deficit could come back to haunt the USD and US bonds.

The Fed FOMC meeting on Wednesday will likely keep markets treading water over the early part of the week. The Fed will maintain its commitment to its $600 billion asset purchase program. Although there is plenty of debate about the effectiveness of QE2 the program is set to be fully implemented by the end of Q2 2011. The FOMC statement will likely note some improvement in the economy whilst retaining a cautious tone. Markets will also be able to gauge the effects of the rotation of FOMC members, with new member Plosser possibly another dissenter.

These events will likely overshadow US data releases including Q4 real GDP, Jan consumer confidence, new home sales, and durable goods orders. GDP is likely to have accelerated in Q4, confidence is set to have improved, but at a low level, housing market activity will remain burdened by high inventories and durable goods orders will be boosted by transport orders. Overall, the encouraging tone of US data will likely continue but markets will also keep one eye on earnings. Unfortunately for the USD, firm US data are being overshadowed by rising inflation concerns elsewhere.

Against the background of intensifying inflation tensions several rate decisions this week will be of interest including the RBNZ in New Zealand, Norges Bank in Norway and the Bank of Japan. All three are likely to keep policy rates on hold. There will also be plenty of attention on the Bank of England (BoE) MPC minutes to determine their reaction to rising inflation pressures, with a slightly more hawkish voting pattern likely as MPC member Posen could have dropped his call for more quantitative easing (QE). There will also be more clues to RBA policy, with the release of Q4 inflation data tomorrow.

Both the EUR and GBP have benefitted from a widening in interest rate futures differentials. In contrast USD sentiment has clearly deteriorated over recent weeks as highlighted in the shift in IMM positioning, with net short positions increasing sharply. It is difficult to see this trend reversing over the short-term, especially as the Fed will likely maintain its dovish stance at its FOMC meeting this week. This suggests that the USD will remain on the back foot.

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Optimism dissipates

Markets have been highly fickle so far this year. Optimism about strong recovery led by China – recall the fact that disappointment from the surprisingly weak US non-farm payrolls report in December was outweighed by strong Chinese trade data – has dissipated. Instead of rejoicing at China’s robust GDP report last week, which revealed a 10.7% rise in the fourth quarter of 2009, investors began to fret about whether China would have to move more aggressively to tighten monetary policy. Fuelling these fears was the release of Consumer price data which showed inflation rising above expectations to 1.9% YoY in China.

If such fears were not sufficient to hit risk appetite, US President Obama’s plan to limit the size and trading activities of financial institutions dealt another blow to financial stocks. The plan followed quickly after the Democrats lost the state of Massachusetts to the Republicans and managed to shake confidence in bank stocks whilst fuelling increased risk aversion. Meanwhile, rumblings about Greece continue to weigh on markets and Greek debt spreads continued to widen even as global bond markets rallied.

Following the US administration’s plans to restrict banks’ activities the fact that the rise in risk aversion was US led rather than broad based led to an eventual pull back in the dollar which helped EUR/USD to avoid a break below 1.40. Risk trades including the AUD came under pressure as risk appetite pulled back. A drop in commodity prices did not help. The AUD was also hit by news that Australia’s Henry Tax Review would look to tax miners in the country. As a result AUD/USD dropped below 0.90 though this level is likely to provide good buying levels for those wanted to take medium term AUD long positions. The one currency that did benefit was the JPY which managed to drop below sub 90 levels.

The aftermath of the “Volker Plan” will reverberate around markets this week keeping a lid on equity sentiment. Meanwhile Greece will be in the spotlight especially its bond syndication. A bad outcome could be the trigger for EUR/USD to sustain a move below 1.40 though it looks as though it may find a bottom around current levels, with strong support seen around 1.4029. The German IFO business survey for January will be important to provide some direction for EUR and could be a factor that weighs on the currency if as expected it reveals some loss of momentum in the economy.

Aside from the Fed the other G3 central bank to meet this week is the Bank of Japan but unless the Bank is seen to be serious about fighting deflation, USD/JPY may remain under downward pressure against the background of elevated risk aversion. Below 90.0 there does appear to be plenty of USD/JPY buyers however, suggesting that further upside for the JPY will be limited. USD/JPY will find strong support around 88.84.

Much will depend on the key events in the US this week including the Fed FOMC meeting and the President’s State of the Union speech. USD bulls will look for some indication that the US government is serious about cutting the burgeoning budget deficit. Also watch out for the confirmation vote on the renomination of Bernanke as Fed Chairman which could end up being close. There is a heavy slate of data to contend with including new and existing home sales, consumer confidence, durable goods orders, the first glance at Q4 GDP and Chicago PMI.

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